Great Habshis
Great Habshis

Great Habshis In Ethiopian/Indian History

The Third Habshi Ulugh Khan

The third Habshi bearing the title of Ulugh Khan was Yaqut’s son Muhammad, also known as Shams ud-Dawlah Muhammad al-Habshi, who served as vizier to his father from 1543-4 to 1557-8. Also called Khayrat Khan, he also held the title of al-Majlis al-Ashraf al-Ali, and is remembered, as we have seen, as one of the patrons of the Gujarat historian Haji ad-Dabir. Muhammad Ulugh Khan appointed as his vizier yet another Habshi, Bilal Falah Khan, and, according to the Indian historian M.S. Commissariat, “secured the same devotion as his father had enjoyed from the Habshi troops in Gujarat and was thus able to take an active part in the confused politics of the time”. He sided sometimes with Itimad Khan and sometimes with Imad-ul-Mulk Arslan, but after Akbar’s conquest of Gujarat ended his days in captivity, and was buried at Sarkhej beside the graves of his father Yaqut and his son Ahmad.

The prestigious title of Jhujhar Khan, as Commissariat notes, was likewise successively held, by “two Abyssinian commanders” of Gujarat. The first was Bilal Habshi, who was appointed in 1538-9, and was governor of Burhanpur under Mubarak Shah of Khandesh (1537-1566). He was subsequently killed in battle before the great commercial town of Surat in 1558-9, and was buried at Sarkhej. His son, Aziz Khan, and grandson, Amin Khan, both acquired some prominence in Gujarat.

The second Habshi with the title of Jhujhar Khan was Bilal Habshi’s son Marjan Sultani Habshi, who held the fiefs of Bahmanul and Munda. The adopted brother of Yaqut Ulugh Khan, he died in 1573, when he was executed by being trampled on by an elephant.

Other Prominent Habshis

Other prominent Habshis of this time included Said Safar Salami, who, after Bahadur’s death in 1537, became governor of Surat with the title of Khudavand Khan; Bilal Falah Khani Habshi, vizier to Muhammad Ulugh Khan, who subsequently became an independent chieftain with the title of Khayrat Khan and died in 1563-3; and Fulad Khan Sandal, who ruled the town of Jamud, until his death in 1569-70.

Yet another important Habshi of Gujarat was Sheikh Said al-Habshi Sultani. Originally a slave of Rumi Khan, he later entered the service of Sultan Mahmud III. On the latter’s death in 1554 he joined the great Habshi captain Jhujhar Khan, and, after a long and distinguished military career, received valuable fiefdoms from the latter, who reportedly regarded him as a brother. Shaik Said managed his land efficiently, and acquired great wealth. He collected a fine library, and had over a hundred slaves, probably mainly or entirely Habshis, as well as numerous horses and camels. Until Emperor Akbar’s conquest of Ahmadabad, he dined daily in the company of many nobles and divines, and maintained a public kitchen, which distributed food daily to nearly a thousand destitute persons. He died in 1576; and is perhaps best remembered as the builder of a famous mosque, known by his name, in Ahmadabad.

Emperor Akbar’s Conquest

Akbar’s conquest of Gujarat had major consequences for thered abusive words against Akbar, was punished, as we have seen, by being thrown under an elephant and crushed to death. His son Walil Khan was on the other hand given a command in the Akbar’s Gujarat army. Another Habshi, Abdul Kerim Sayfud Muhammad Fulad Khan, the son of the afore-mentioned Fulad Khan, was the ruler of Songir under the kings of Khandesh. He subsequently transferred his allegiance to Akbar, who responded by reaffirming his possession of Songir. He later became, as we have seen, Haji ad-Dabir’s second patron.